When Hannah Dreissigacker looks back at this season, she’ll probably remember Russia over Finland — that is, the last IBU World Cup races of the season in Khanty-Mansiysk over World Championships in Kontiolahti.
Or at least that’s where one of her fondest memories will stem from. After more than a week of headaches and insomnia at World Championships in Finland, the 28-year-old US Biathlon A-teamer rebounded to place 14th in Friday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint in Khanty-Mansiysk.
It was the best result of her career, topping her previous best of 16th in the World Cup sprint last month in Oslo, Norway.
“I have to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by today’s race in lots of ways,” Dreissigacker wrote in an email on Friday. “I had a pretty frustrating World Champs in Kontiolahti, with lots of bad shooting and then I was having trouble with insomnia and headaches by the end of my time there, and it had me feeling pretty down.”
At World Championships, Dreissigacker placed 61st in the sprint, narrowly missing the top-60 cutoff required for the pursuit, and finished 67th in the 15 k individual.
“Here in Khanty Mansiysk I’ve been sleeping better and pleasantly surprised by the weather (it’s not freezing cold), the food (there are good vegetables!), and the place in general (it’s a weird place, but weird is also interesting),” she explained. “I’ve still been having headaches, but I’ve been trying to reset my approach to just be confident and enjoy the last races of the season.”
She started 40th on an unusually warm, 40-degree Celsius evening with what an IBU press release described as a “stiff breeze” in the range.
With one miss in her first shooting, Dreissigacker left prone in 43rd overall, 47.6 seconds behind the German race leader at the time, Laura Dahlmeier, who started just ahead of her in bib 39.
One loop later, the American jumped into 14th with a perfect standing stage.
“I felt OK skiing but not really great, and prone was OK, but I’m definitely most happy about my standing shooting,” Dreissigacker wrote. “I had a little bit of wind and had to take a few extra breaths and really fight for those targets, and that made it feel extra good to hit them!”
She headed out on her last loop feeling energized and excited by her shooting, but not quite expecting 14th place.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be a new personal best…but I guess that the whole field struggled with shooting today so it worked out well!” she wrote.
Dreissigacker finished 1:26.4 behind winner Kaisa Mäkäräinen of Finland, who started 36th and made up more than 12 seconds on her final loop to win by 14.2 seconds in 19:49.1. Mäkäräinen cleaned prone and missed one standing — just like Dahlmeier — and Dahlmeier lost her lead after the second shooting, trailing Mäkäräinen by 1.7 seconds with 2.5 k to go.
The German finished second, 1.3 seconds ahead of Darya Domracheva of Belarus, who overcame two penalties (one in each stage) to place third (+15.5). The overall World Cup leader who is now just nine points ahead of Mäkäräinen, Domracheva skied the second-fastest course time overall, after Mäkäräinen.
“I am happy to be back on the podium and to be back in Khanty-Mansiysk,” Domracheva told the IBU. “Like everyone, the holidays are coming and that is something nice to look forward to.”
Mäkäräinen explained that she experienced more wind in prone than standing, but felt a shakiness in her legs for the second time this season during her second stage.
“Still, I am happy to be back on the podium,” Mäkäräinen told the IBU. “My legs were really gone after the World Championships … the physiotherapist did a lot of work on them this week. Last night I finally felt like I could go today.”
For Dahlmeier, 21, it was her sixth podium of the year.
“My results are better than I expected earlier in the season; I had hoped for one or two podiums this year,” she said. “All of these last races have been really almost perfect … I hope to have more good races for the next two days.”
In Saturday’s 10 k pursuit, Mäkäräinen will head out first, 14 seconds ahead of Dahlmeier. Domracheva will start 16 seconds back in third, and Dreissigacker will follow 1:26 back in 14th.
“I’m just going to try to keep my confident approach to shooting, and have fun out there!” Dreissigacker wrote.
U.S. Women Secure Nation Cup Top 15
Of the two American women competing in Khanty-Mansiysk, both she and Susan Dunklee qualified for the pursuit. Dunklee placed 26th on Friday, 1:49.4 after Mäkäräinen, with four penalties: one prone and three standing. The 11th starter, Dunklee made up four places on her final loop and clocked the fifth-fastest course time overall.
“I probably sound like a broken record after last week — my ski shape feels phenomenal right now and would put me in a very high position if I were to shoot well,” Dunklee said in a US Biathlon press release. “Unfortunately, the standing got the best of me this time.”
With a top-15 finish in the Nation Cup, the U.S. women earned four quota spots for next year’s IBU World Championships, according to the release.
“Today’s sprint was our last opportunity to score team Nation Cup points and we had a close battle going for the top 15,” Dunklee explained. “We fought for every place. I am so proud of Hannah putting together her career-best result today and we sealed 15th.”
Dunklee will start Saturday’s pursuit 1:49 back with Russia’s Daria Virolaynen, who finished 0.5 seconds ahead of her in 25th.
Canada’s lone starter, Rosanna Crawford placed 28th (+1:54.7) with three penalties: one prone and two standing. She started 21st and rose four places from 32nd to 28th overall during her last loop. Crawford’s range time ranked seventh.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.